Why Refurbished Electronics?

Every day, I’m updated with tech news about the latest phones, tablets, and laptops. Most of these items cost hundreds to thousands of dollars when bought brand new from major retailers like Best Buy and Target, or online outlets such as Amazon. For the longest, however, my electronics selection has been refurbished. With the exception of my cellphones (of which I purchase new, mid-range models at affordable prices), the selection of my laptops and tablets have been refurbished models, ever since I purchased my first ThinkPad in 2003. For the most part, while they aren’t technological juggernauts (I wouldn’t recommend gaming on a Compaq Presario), for every day tasks, they get the job done, especially with things such as word processing and (surprisingly) music production. So, why do I recommend getting your electronics refurbished?PriceRefurbished electronics can save you a lot of money if you know what to look for and where to look. Before I knew about how to search for the best bargains in used and refurbished electronics, I was pretty much window shopping at your average mom & pop store along 6th Ave in Manhattan. These guys would sell trash-tier electronics for the price one could get a brand-new baseline laptop or tablet at Staples or Best Buy. Sure enough, I figured out how to shop around local spots and even conventions. My go-to was the Marketpro Computer Shows, back when they used to visit The Bronx and White Plains. You could get a decent laptop for anywhere from $100 to $300, and that was before getting optional hard drive and memory upgrades, which were also affordable.In more recent years, I’ve been able to find even better bargains on websites such as eBay. I purchased my first Samsung Chromebook through an eBay retailer for $50, and it works like new, with an exceptional battery life. I also visited a Canadian retailer site, Refurbio (refurb.io), for my latest laptop purchase, a Lenovo ThinkPad R61, which only cost me $60 with full software and hard drive upgrades. I’ve been passing along the word to my family and friends even since, especially hearing how many of them have dealt with not being able to afford replacement tech on short notice.QualityPeople assume that refurbished products lack in quality, but trust me. In the right hands, refurbished tech can last as long as brand new products. Before my latest laptop purchase, I had purchased a Compaq Presario CQ56 laptop for $200 from a local pawnshop. Do you know how long that laptop lasted me? 10 years. That’s right, a full decade before I’d need a replacement. 10 years of photo editing, music production, MAME arcade action, and the occasional DVD viewing.However, don’t assume that refurbished tech doesn’t require maintenance. The reason my Presario lasted so long was because I knew how to care for it. That meant the proper anti-virus software, making sure I avoided overheating (external fan add-ons can be extremely helpful if you know the right type to use), and not doing anything that would push the hardware to its limits, such as online gaming. Don’t worry, there are better refurbished laptops and towers out there for gamers too, but they also need the proper TLC if you want longevity.Refurbished tablets are also reliable if you know what to look for. 9 times out of 10, you’ll end up finding a solid refurbished tablet on eBay (though you can get even better deals on JemJem if you absolutely need an iPad). I purchased a Samsung Galaxy Tab 4 through eBay for $60, and, despite an annoying air bubble in the screen, it works well. Don’t worry, though. Other refurbished tablets may have their visual blemishes, but when it comes to functionality, they’re as satisfactory as new tablets. Just be sure to read the retailer descriptions before any purchases.Eco-friendlyWhen you use a refurbished product, believe it or not, you’re doing your part in preserving the ecosystem. New computers and tablets require new parts, which are made from newly made plastic, steel, and other substances that fill up our landfills. When you purchase a refurbished piece of tech, that’s one more laptop, tablet, or cellphone that doesn’t end up in a landfill. Electronic waste is harder to recycle because of the parts it takes to make up the entire machine. You wouldn’t recycle an LCD screen the same way you would recycle a CPU or a heat sink. So, when you buy a refurbished laptop, that’s one less motherboard, one less chassis, and one less keyboard in the junkyard.Also, one person’s piece of old, dated hardware can come in handy for the next person. The $60 ThinkPad R61 that I’m using to update this very blog at this moment originally retailed at $1,200 upon its release in 2007. That alone hinted at the quality I was purchasing. And as it turns out, I’m not alone in discovering the benefits of this particular laptop’s longevity. After a quick search of YouTube vids, I found that quite a few computer science majors and tech repair specialists have purchased used ThinkPad R61s to upgrade and customize for their needs. So while it may not be the flavor of the month, that refurbished piece of tech may be the workhorse that you never realized you needed.Keep This In MindRefurbished tech may not be for everyone, but it will benefit those who look into making the purchase. A few things to keep in mind: make sure that the retailer you’re buying your tech from is certified (i.e. Microsoft Certified, Apple Certified, etc.). Anytime you purchase a refurbished piece of tech that has been certified by its respective company, you are getting a seal of quality that you won’t get from a non-licensed third party. Also, make sure that a warranty is included, whether it’s a 90-day or 1-year warranty. If for any reason your product is defective or malfunctions after you purchase it, you want to make sure that it can be repaired or replaced at no cost to you. Finally, research the product before hand. The last thing you want to do is purchase a tablet that will explode in your hands or a laptop that will burn your lap. Look up articles or video reviews that will give you the gist of what you’re about to buy. In the end, quality is everything, refurbished or not.

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Your Life, Your Goals, Your Time

On April 29th, one of my favorite directors, John Singleton, passed away after suffering a stroke the week prior. At the age of 24, he was the youngest director and the first Black American director nominated for an Academy Award for his now-classic directoral debut, Boyz N Da Hood (1991).  The next 27 years of his life, he spent help pave the way for Black filmmakers with directoral efforts such as Poetic JusticeHigher LearningRosewood, the 2000 reboot of ShaftBaby Boy, and other movies, not to mention his efforts as an executive producer of projects such as Hustle & FlowBlack Snake Moan, and the FX television series, Snowfall. All before his death at 51.

A month prior, Grammy-nominated hip-hop artist Nipsey Hussle was tragically murdered in front of one of his privately-owned retail stores. He had built his musical career with a series of mixtapes, one of them an infamous mixtape that he charged $200 per unit that generated waves of hype. He had done so much independently, by the time Atlantic Records approached him for a record deal, he had the option to refuse and stay independent. Instead, he agreed to a distribution deal that gave him complete creative control. He was also an avid business entrepreneur, opening stores in his own community, and a vocal supporter of the STEM program, in efforts to bring science, technology and mathematics courses to underserved communities. He had done more by the age of 33 than most people do by the age of 60.

Why do I bring up these two tragic deaths of men who have lived extraordinary lives?  Because there are so many of us approaching these ages who have not taken the opportunity to live out our dreams.  We are constrained by work, among other circumstances, and have put our own dreams on the back burner for the sake of our day-to-day. It has brought so many of us to the point of saying “I can’t do it” when we revisit our old dreams. Some of us say that we’re too old for one dream or another, others look at the financial side of things, the cost seemingly outweighing the reward. But for your own sake, don’t give up on your dreams.

If you believe you’re too old for a certain dream, there are people out there in their 40’s taking their first martial arts class, people in their 50’s taking their first art classes, even an 80-year-old grandmother in Japan who moonlights as a DJ after taking DJ-ing classes.  If you believe that money is an issue, there are people building careers as percussionists with nothing but wooden boxes or plastic buckets. And don’t assume you need the most expensive equipment to make your dream happpen. Affordable alternatives are always being made available; all you have to do is Google the right term and click on the right site. And if you believe you don’t have the time to pursue your goals, all you need is at least 10 to 20 minutes a day to make it happen, just enough time to make gradual process.

Don’t let your goals wither up and fade away. Use the time in your life to make a difference for yourself. You’ll thank yourself in the long run for not giving up.

The Iron Fist Dilemma

On March 17, 2017, Netflix will premiere its latest Marvel show, Iron Fist.  Much like its predecessors, Daredevil , Jessica Jones , and Luke Cage , the show will follow closely to its comic book source material, including its protagonist, orphaned billionaire martial artist Danny Rand, who became a martial arts prodigy after a plane crash landed him in the mythical land of K’un L’un. During his training, he obtains the ability to concentrate his chi (spiritual energy) into his fists, rendering them like iron, hence his moniker. The supposed controversy is that the show’s lead is white, rather than casting an Asian lead for this martial arts show. However, anyone who has read any iteration of Iron Fist’s comics in the past 4 decades knows that Danny Rand is white in the comics as well.

The dilemma is that white lead characters have been the leads in movies focusing on Asian cultures, from Tom Cruise in The Last Samurai, to Matt Damon in The Great Wall. Even Scarlet Johansson was cast as the lead in the live-action adaptation of Ghost in the Shell, sparking a debate on whether her lead character was “white-washed” or not even before it debuted in theaters. Where Iron Fist differs is that it’s actually following it’s source material, potentially nullifying any claim of white-washing.

The issue that should be in focus is not the ethnicity of an established character that follows the source material, but why an established character that can fit the criteria for inclusion hasn’t been utilized yet. A prime example is another martial arts hero from Marvel, Shang-Chi. Not only does he have a similar cult following to Iron Fist, but he gives Marvel a chance to put an Asian superhero at the forefront. In fact, Shang-Chi is part of the same Heroes For Hire circle that Iron Fist, Luke Cage, and Misty Knight inhabit, making him an easy chatacter to bring into the fold.

As casting trends have shown, inclusion and representation are beginning to matter more than ever. However, reassigning ethnicity may not always be the best solution. Sometimes, it’s about bringing an overlooked hero into the forefront.

A Quick MLK Reminder

On this Martin Luther King Day, most of us are celebrating an extended weekend. More important than the weekend is the reason today is a holiday. Today, we remember a champion of the Civil Rights Movemen, a leader who fought against segregation and bigotry. We’ve come a long way since his time, but the battle is far from over. Let us remember the leadership of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and the leadership of other champions during the Civil Rights Movement.

Thanksgiving Reflections

As I’m at the tail end of my work shift as a direct care counselor, having stemmed the tide of residents cursing staff out at random and a slew of dirty grown-man diapers and clean wipes, I do wish I were with my family this day. On the other hand, I’ve had time to reflect on what I’m thankful for. In spite of working a job that pushes the limits of my patience and sanity, and in spite of a socio-political climate that’s pushed most of us in the states at wit’s end, I’m finding myself taking moments to reflect on the small things that can actually say I’m blessed to have.

I’m thankful that even though my job as a direct care counselor is difficult, and the employer that I work for is frustrating, it allows me to have something to pay the bills, keep me fed, and able to be self-sufficient to a fault.

I’m thankful that even though I still live at home with my parents, I still have a roof over my head, and I can contribute to their well-being financially. 

I’m thankful that I don’t have a gym membership yet. I’ve trained harder in the comfort of my own bedroom than I ever could in a Planet Fitness or some other gym chain.

I’m thankful for being in a city with options. Even with the dividing line between the haves and have-nots widening in New York, I’m finding more opportunities to take advantage of now than I did 10 years ago.

I’m thankful for being single. Although the loneliness can get to me at times, it’s allowed me a lot more time to understand myself and what I need, and it’s given me more time to pursue my interests than being in a relationship would.

I’m thankful that at 34, even though I’m seen as “too old” for some things, I’m young enough for a fresh start.

And I’m thankful to be alive, most of all.

Starting From Scratch

The past few months have been almost like a breaking of a creative plateau for me with music. I had been dabbling with producing EDM/house music for some time, but now I’ve gone from dabbling to actually making legit compositions. What’s funny is that I’m doing it with the bare minimum of equipment: a refurbished laptop I purchased for $200, a budget tablet I purchased for $40, and software that didn’t even put a dent in my wallet.

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A shot of part of a composition I’m working on using Caustic.

For over a decade, I’ve been doing hip-hop instrumentals on my laptop. For copyright reasons, I never released them for commercial purposes. My beats were sample-based, and I’ve heard about the high price tags of sample clearance in recent years. However, along with the hip-hop instrumentals, I had started dabbling in dance music, most notably trance and house. I was able to use the same production program on my laptop that I used for producing hip-hop beats, Linux MultiMedia Studio, or LMMS for short. Using the program’s stock instrument sounds, and even importing drum and instrument wav files of my own, I was able to churn out a few rough drafts to upload to my SoundCloud profile. It got some positive feedback. Yet I felt I could do much better. Also, I could only spend so much time on my laptop at time.

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Using the PCMSynth plugin on Caustic.

My luck turned around when I purchased my first tablet a year ago, an iRulu X7 tablet, for $45. (I also purchased a compatible case with built-in keyboard for $7.99.)  Being that the tablet was an Android tablet, running on the KitKat OS, I had access to Google Play and all of it’s apps. Finding the right production app was a trial-by-error process. I went through drum machine apps that were garbage that I ended up deleting. I tried G-Stomper, but the interface was too hard to learn. In the end, I settled on a popular production app that would not only help me make music, but challenge me as a composer and musician:
Caustic.

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Using the soundboard.

What first caught my eye was the keyboard interface. I was teaching myself piano, so I gravitated towards playing different chords on Caustic rather than just programming them. It was like playing a portable piano on my tablet. Once I started importing different sounds through Google Play, that’s when I truly began to experiment, using different sounds and filters, playing harmonies before I programmed them, and combining them with drums. I was finally making the music I was aching to create.

The past three months was a prime time for me. Being that my 7 inch tablet and case are as portable as can be, I’m able to work on my music anywhere. And I mean ANYWHERE. I’m able to touch up drum patterns coming home from work. I’m able to play melodies on my lunch break at work. I even took my tablet with me on Thanksgiving weekend to show my cousins what I’d been working on. On top of that, I went from having four rough drafts on my SoundCloud account to having an album’s worth of material that I’m ready to master and copyright.

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Putting the final touches on a project in Magix Music Studio.

I’m sharing this not to brag, but to let people know that you don’t need to bleed your pocket to make good music, and even if your options are limited, you can do some damn good work. Along with my laptop and tablet being on the cheap side, the programs I’ve used cost a fraction of what most expensive music programs cost. My mastering program, Magix Music Studio, only cost me $60 on sale at a Best Buy before tax. Caustic on my tablet only cost me $10 on Google Play, if I remember correctly. And the first program I used, LMMS? That program was FREE. And no, it’s not pirated. It was made as a free Linux-based alternative to FL Studio (aka Fruity Loops). So whenever a peer told me that I needed a more expensive program that cost anywhere from $200 to $600 and up, I’d look them dead in the eye and tell them, “What for? I’m making magic with the stuff I’m using now!”

So, if you’re aching to make music, but you’re on a tight budget, take heart, and remember my story. If I can do it, you can do it. As for my album, after I finish mastering all of my tracks, I’ll be ready to distribute my first album. If you’re curious about my work thus far, come check out my SoundCloud profile.

https://m.soundcloud.com/5g-the-elemental

Balancing My Diet

(Personal note: I’m sorry I’ve been away so long. Between work, life changes, and friends getting married, I rarely had a moment to sit down and give you an update. I’m glad to be back on here, and I hope to keep this blog updated on a regular basis.  –D.T.)

In the past few weeks, I made small changes to my daily diet to reflect my renewed insight to health, especially after recovering from a shoulder/chest injury. (How did I end up injuring my shoulder and chest? Well, I learned the hard way not to do hindu pushups and overhead presses on the same day.) In the world of exercise and fitness, everyone is trying to follow one diet trend or another. Either they’re following the Paleo Diet, going vegan, or some other fad like eating 30 bananas a day. To be honest, recovering from an injury taught me something important: balanced nutrition is essential.

During my recovery process, I made a quick hospital trip to get examined. I had my blood pressure taken, and, to my shock, I was at 161/110. Thinking that it was because of my sodium intake (in spite of getting a decent amount of fruit in my diet and drinking water regularly), I made the resolution to go vegan. For 3 days, I kept my diet strictly plant-based, and in 3 days, I dropped from 289 lbs to 280lbs. That may sound good, but I was becoming easily irritable, and developing a case of insomnia on top of that. Also, my lack of protein was making it harder for my body to repair itself. The rapid weight loss wasn’t worth it.

The day I ended my vegan streak, the first thing I ate was a lean beef burger. I could feel the pain in my aching muscles melting away, as if that beef was the missing link from my recovery. Within 3 days, I put on 3 pounds, moving up to 283 lbs. Deciding to balance my plant-based nutrition with a small amount of animal-based protein (mostly chicken or fish), I kept a steady routine of eating at least 2 bananas and a salad (with a small cheat food like oatmeal cookies) during the day, and at night after work, indulging in a salad with a meat of my choice. By the end of one week, I had dropped 1 pound to 282 lbs. Keeping the regimen up, I dropped another pound, and as of today, I weigh 281 lbs, 8 pounds lighter than I was 3 weeks ago, and only 1 pound heavier than when I ended my vegan period. Keep in mind, this is combined with a steady exercise regimen that includes boxing, kickboxing, bodyweight exercises, stretching, and moderate resistance training.

With all the fancy gimmicks out there and people punishing themselves by denying themselves their favorite foods, the best way to eat is just by getting more fruits and vegetables in their diet, not forsaking pizza and burgers completely, but balancing their intake. In fact, the more I got into eating salad and fruits on a daily basis, the less I needed to eat pizza or burgers on a regular basis. And on that occasional cheat day, make sure you eat some fruit to keep your system craving healthy food. My last cheat day before my most recent weighing, I indulged in Taco Bell and Little Caesar’s pizza. I still ate a banana after my indulgence, and it kept me from getting too hooked on junk food. And I still managed to keep my weight going down.

So in the end, you don’t need gimmick diets to lose weight. Get plenty of fruits and vegetables along with a bit of protein, and you’ll be just fine. 😉

(End note: Btw, if you’re wondering why my blood pressure was so high that day, it was an effect of my body recovering from the chest/shoulder injury. Once I recovered, my BP dropped down to a healthier rate. 🙂 )